- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Two U.S. Catholic bishops resigned yesterday amid accusations of sexual misconduct, two days before the nation's bishops will meet to discuss policies for sexually abusive priests and homosexuality in the priesthood.

The Rev. James McCarthy, a bishop in the Archdiocese of New York who was an assistant to Cardinal Edward Egan, stepped down after admitting to having multiple affairs with women. Father McCarthy, 59, was the fourth U.S. bishop to resign in a sex scandal since January.

Earlier yesterday, Lexington, Ky., Bishop J. Kendrick Williams resigned after being accused of molesting children decades ago.

In a statement, Father Williams, 65, denied the accusations made by three men of abuse in 1969 and 1981, while he was a parish priest in Louisville.

The resignations came as the U.S. Catholic bishops prepared for tomorrow's annual midyear meeting in Dallas, where they will consider establishing national enforcement rules for sexually abusive priests, such as defrocking them after one credible complaint.

Usually low-key and drawing little media coverage, the gathering has garnered significant attention as the sex scandal has grown since the January conviction of a pedophile priest in the Boston Archdiocese. Four bishops and at least 225 of the nation's more than 46,000 Roman Catholic priests have been dismissed or have resigned since the scandal erupted in Boston.

Court papers showed that Boston Cardinal Bernard Law knew about sexual-abuse accusations against clerics but allowed the priests to keep working.

"Our foremost goal is to protect children and young people," Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, head of a panel on abuse, said before this week's meeting, which ends Saturday.

"One essential way to do that is to say clearly, 'If you abuse, you are out of the priesthood,'" the archbishop said.

The more than 300 active bishops are sharply divided on whether priests with even a single complaint against them in the past 40 years must be retired or laicized, which means revoking their priestly status.

Some fear the tougher approach would start a witch hunt.

Critics of the bishops, however, don't trust them to enforce a "zero tolerance" policy on their wayward brethren.

"The overall problem with the 'one strike and you're out' is that the bishops still want to be umpire," David Clohessy of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said yesterday. "Secular authorities should make that call."

The bishops, whose decision must be approved by Rome, also will consider creating a commission to look into past failures to police the abuse problem.

Yesterday, the conservative policy group Family Research Council issued a report calling on the bishops to openly discuss homosexuality among clergy, saying that "1 to 3 percent of the population that is sexually attracted to the same sex are committing up to one-third of the sex crimes against children."

"The evidence indicates that homosexual men molest boys at rates grossly disproportionate to the rates at which heterosexual men molest girls," said the council's report, compiled by Timothy J. Dailey.

"We don't want to single out the Roman Catholic Church, but unfortunately it has come to the forefront," Mr. Dailey said.

The Rev. John F. Harvey, director of Courage, a Catholic ministry that "teaches people how to be chaste," said liberal theology from the 1960s told priests that homosexual activity was acceptable.

"There's a serious problem in the Roman Catholic clergy of some priests who are actively homosexual," he said yesterday.

Earlier this year, the Vatican's official spokesman said homosexuals should be denied ordination as priests, raising an outcry from homosexual advocacy groups and some liberal Catholics.

The U.S. hierarchy has not addressed the topic openly yet but has frequently pointed out that celibacy has no link to pedophilia. It plans, however, a review of the nation's 50 or so seminaries, and the question of a sexual subculture is partly at issue.

Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has said that no more than 1 percent to 2 percent of priests have faced abuse accusations.

Richard Sipe, a former religious order member who is a psychiatrist, estimates that 6 percent of U.S. Catholic clergy have sexually abused a minor.

Yesterday, the Vatican said Pope John Paul II had accepted Father Williams' resignation, submitted under church law for "illness or some other grave reason."

"I offered my resignation to the Holy Father, stating that I believe that by my stepping down the diocese can rid itself of the cloud which hangs over it and me at this time," Father Williams said yesterday.

A statement from the New York Archdiocese said it was unknown whether Father McCarthy's affairs would raise any legal issues, but the archdiocese would cooperate with authorities if there was an investigation.

Father McCarthy admitted to the affairs after the archdiocese received a letter about them Saturday.

"We only learned about this 72 hours ago. Our indication thus far is that they were [over the age of 18], but we are still trying to gather all the information," said archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling.

In March, the Rev. Anthony O'Connell resigned as bishop of Palm Beach, Fla., after admitting that he abused a seminary student in Missouri more than 25 years ago.

Last month, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland resigned after acknowledging that he paid a man $450,000 to settle a sexual-misconduct accusation.

A poll released yesterday shows the image of the bishops has been tarnished by the latest wave of sex scandals, even among Roman Catholics.

The ABC News poll says 47 percent of the public has a favorable view of the Catholic Church, down from 63 percent in February. Among Catholics, seven in 10 had a favorable view, down from nine in 10 in February.

Also, 22 percent of those polled approve of the way the church is handling the sexual-misconduct scandals, while three-quarters disapprove. Catholics were somewhat happier about the bishops' handling of the scandals, although only one-third said they approved.

The poll of 1,004 adults was taken Friday through Sunday and has an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points, larger for subgroups such as Catholics.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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